July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

School board to pick new member Tuesday

MEDINA — The Medina city school board is expected to appoint a new member Tuesday to replace Charles Freeman, who resigned last month.

Freeman, who was the board’s president, offered his resignation March 26, following the public outcry over a new contract for Superintendent Randy Stepp, which included an $83,000 signing bonus, and subsequent revelations that past contracts had paid for more than a quarter-million dollars of his educational expenses.

Charles Freeman

At a meeting two weeks ago, school board members said they would consider applicants from a pool of 12 people interviewed last month to fill a vacancy left by Dr. Robert Wilder, who had resigned in January.

On March 23, the board appointed Thomas Cahalan, the 13th person interviewed to fill Wilder’s seat.

The board said anyone else who would like to apply for Freeman’s seat also would be considered.

Previous applicants who wished to “re-interview” were invited to Tuesday’s meeting, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Medina High School’s media center.

Also on Tuesday, the school board is poised to vote on a $20,370 contract with a Cleveland public relations firm specializing in “crisis management.”

Hennes Paynter Communications was hired March 6 — the day after The Gazette reported details of Stepp’s new contract, which was approved by the board Jan. 7 without any public announcement.

The contract, which was signed by board member Susan Vlcek, was included with a draft of Tuesday’s agenda sent to the Medina City Teacher’s Association, the union that represents the district’s about 400 teachers.

The union’s contract with the district requires that a copy of the agenda and related documents be sent to the union prior to all board meetings. Union officials have filed a grievance charging the board failed to do that before approving Stepp’s new contract.

The contract with Hennes Paynter specifies the rates the firm charges for its services, which range from $185 per hour for “social media monitoring” and analysis to $450 per hour for weekend and holiday crisis responses.

The rate for standard communications consulting and crisis response during business hours is $350 per hour, according to the contract. “Crisis response” during evenings and overnight is billed at $400 per hour.

On Wednesday, board spokesperson Jeanne Hurt said the firm was employed until March 21 and the total bill came to $20,370.

In a letter from Hennes Paynter to Hurt that was included with the contract, the firm thanked Hurt for telephoning and inquiring about their services. The contract was signed by Vlcek on March 6 but does not detail how many hours or which services the board planned to use.

It’s not clear if the board discussed hiring the firm during a special meeting March 6, where the board met in a closed, executive session for more than three hours.

Ohio’s open meeting law bars school boards from taking action at closed sessions.

On March 7 — the day after the firm was hired — the district announced Stepp had offered to give back his bonus. The following week, The Gazette reported that Stepp had arranged to pay back the bonus in $1,100 installments from his bi-weekly paycheck through the end of his contract, which expires in July 2019.

Last week, Ohio auditor Dave Yost said he would conduct a special examination of the district fund used to pay for Stepp’s educational costs and other expenses.

The contract with Hennes Paynter doesn’t shed any light on what exactly the firm helped to coordinate for the district.

The four-page contract with Hennes Paynter states the the school district “acknowledges and agrees that public relations efforts take time before results can be seen.”

The contract also states that the district “acknowledges that editorial coverage is out of the control of Hennes Paynter and that even if desired stories and articles are published or broadcast, the final editorial content cannot be dictated or controlled by it.”

The school district also “agrees that Hennes Paynter makes no guarantees regarding editorial coverage or public/media relations results,” the contract states.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or at lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

The following 12 people have been interviewed for a seat on the Medina school board:
• Douglas Adamczyk — A 5-year resident of the school district, Adamczyk holds a BA in management and works as regional director of sales for First Priority Financial Inc.
Donald Barnes — A 29-year resident of the school district, Barnes holds a
2-year business degree from The Ohio State University and serves as a building monitor for the city of Medina.
Sandra Dombrowski — A 12-year resident of the school district, Dombrowski holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and English literature from Baldwin-Wallace University. Dombrowski served as senior vice president and manager of asset management at KeyCorp before becoming a stay-at-home mom.
Doug Eastwood — A 49-year resident of the school district, Eastwood is a 1981 graduate of Medina High School. He owns and operates his own company, Medina Excavating Inc.
Jason Goodman — A 14-year resident of the school district, Goodman graduated from Euclid High School in 1990 and serves as President and CEO of Absolute 0 Internet Studios.
Dr. Kelly Parker — A 20-year resident of the school district, Parker has a degree in veterinary medicine from The Ohio State University and is the owner of Medina Veterinary Clinic.
James Patneau Jr. — A 36-year resident of the school district, Patneau holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and a master’s in business administration from Ashland University and serves as president of Free Enterprises Inc.
Ronald Ross — A 27-year resident of the district, Ross holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the U.S. military academy and is a retired Medina Police sergeant.
Matthew Rubino — A three-year resident of the district, Rubino holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Finance and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Akron. He currently works as the director in the Office of Budget and Management for Cuyahoga County.
Christopher Shuster Sr. — A 12-year resident of the district, Shuster holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business administration and works as an office manager for Trailer One Inc.
Robert Skidmore — A life-long resident of the school district, Skidmore holds a juris doctorate from the University of Akron School of Law, he works as an attorney at a transfer title agency.
Eve Whitmore — An 11-year resident of the district, Whitmore holds a doctorate from The Ohio State University and works as a clinical psychologist. She is employed by M&E Whitmore Consulting, Cornerstone Psychological Services and Western Reserve Psychological Services.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.